1902 Encyclopedia > Cookery


COOKERY. In the condition in which man finds most of the natural substances used as food they are difficult of digestion. By the application of heat he can change the character of his food, and make it more palatable and more easily digestible. The application of heat to animal and vegetable substances for the purpose of attaining these objects constitutes the science and art of cookery. In-numerable discussions have taken place among scientific men as to the natural food of man. Too much importance is, perhaps, attached to meat, but it is now generally accepted that a mixed animal and vegetable diet is best.

If we take a common vegetable food, such for instance as the potato, we find that in 1000 parts we have 760 of water, 200 parts of starch, and some mineral salts and albu-minous compounds. In cooking the starch cells absorb water, and the greater number of them burst. This disin-tegration of the starch cells is preparatory and necessary to more important changes. The starch in all vegetable substances must undergo a similar change before it can mix with the various fluids developed in the mouth and the walls of the alimentary canal. Some of these fluids, such as the saliva and pancreatic fluid, change the starch into dextrin and then into glucose or grape sugar, and this change appears necessary before the carbon and hydrogen can be oxidized. Without the preliminary operation of cooking this change would in all cases be imperfect and often im-possible ; and the thorough cooking of all starchy foods is of the utmost importance. When this is imperfectly done the albuminoid envelope which incloses the starch granule has to be dissolved by the gastric juice, which is often difficult and even impossible. Much indigestion probably arises from the imperfect cooking of starchy foods.

The chief constituents of animal food are albumen, fibrin, and fat, with mineral salts and juices. The flavour of meat is due to the osmazone, and some methods of cooking, such as roasting and broiling, appear to increase this flavour. Albumen and fibrin form about one-fifth of the meat. The former always coagulates by heat, and the expansion of the juices tends to separate the solid fibres, and this separation depends very much on the methods of cooking. Albumen is as constant a constituent of all animal food as starch is of vegetable, but these bodies differ greatly in their chemical composition and in the changes which they undergo in the stomach. Albumen is taken into the system as an insoluble substance, but in contact with the gastric fluid it becomes soluble—a condition necessary for every kind of food before it can nourish the body.

Broiling.—The earliest method of cooking was probably burying seeds and flesh in hot ashes, a kind of broiling on all the surfaces at the same time, which when properly done is the most delicate kind of cooking. Broiling is now done over a clear uniform charcoal fire extending at least 2 inches beyond the edges of the gridiron, which should slightly incline towards the cook. It is usual to rub the bars with a piece of suet for meat, and chalk for fish, to prevent the thing broiled being marked with the bars of the gridiron. In this kind of cookery the object is to coagulate as quickly as possible all the albumen on the surface, and seal up the pores of the meat so as to keep in all the juices and flavour. It is, therefore, necessary to thoroughly warm the gridiron before putting on the meat, or the heat of the fire is con-ducted away while the juices and flavour of the meat run into the fire. Broiling is a simple kind of cookery, and one well suited to invalids and persons of delicate appetites. There is no other way in which small quantities of meat can be so well and so quickly cooked, and for persons who dine alone it is the most convenient method of cookery. Broiling cannot be well done in front of an open fire, because one side of the meat is exposed to a current of cold air. A pair of tongs should be used instead of a fork for turning all broiled meat and fish.

Roasting.—Two conditions are necessary for good roasting—a clear bright fire and frequent basting. Next to boiling or stewing it is the most economical method of cooking. The meat at first should be placed close to a brisk fire for five minutes to coagulate the albumen. It should then be drawn back a short distance and roasted slowly. If a meat screen be used it should be placed before the fire to be moderately heated before the meat is put to roast. The centre of gravity of the fire should be a little above the centre of gravity of the joint. No kitchen can be com-plete without an open range, for it is almost impossible to have a properly roasted joint in closed kitcheners. The heat radiated from a good open fire quickly coagulates the albumen on the surface, and thus to a large extent prevents that which is fluid in the interior from solidifying. The con-nective tissue which unites the fibres is gradually converted into gelatine, and rendered easily soluble. The fibrin and albumen appear to undergo a higher oxidation and are more readily dissolved. The fat cells are gradually broken, and the liquid fat unites to a small extent with the chloride of sodium and the tribasic phosphate of sodium contained in the serum of the blood. It is easily seen that roasting by coagulating the external albumen keeps together the most valuable parts of the meat, till they have gradually and slowly undergone the desired change. This surface coagu-lation is not sufficient to prevent the free access of the oxygen of the surrounding air. The empyreumatic oils generated on the surface are neither wholesome nor agreeable, and these are perhaps better removed by roasting than any other method except broiling. The chief object is to retain as much as possible all the sapid juicy properties of the meat, so that at the first cut the gravy flows out of a rich reddish colour, and this can only be accomplished by a quick coagulation of the surface albumen. The time for roasting varies slightly with the kind of meat and the size of the joint. As a rule beef and mutton require a quarter of an hour to the pound; veal and pork about 17 minutes to the pound. To tell whether the joint is done, press the fleshy part with a spoon; if the meat yield easily it is done. With poultry or game the flesh of the leg may be tried in the same way. Some attach importance to occasional jets of steam drawing to the fire. Boasting, when well done (and the w7ay to do it can only be learned by careful practice), is a wholesome method of cooking.

Baking meat is in many respects objectionable, and should never be done if any other method is available. The gradual disuse of open grates for roasting has led to a practice of first baking and then browning before the fire. This method completely reverses the true order of cooking by beginning with the lowest temperature and finishing with the highest. Baked meat has never the delicate flavour of roast meat, nor is it so digestible. The vapours given off by the charring of the surface cannot freely escape, and the meat is cooked in an atmosphere charged with empyreumatic oil. A brick or earthenwTare oven is prefer-able to iron, because the porous nature of the bricks absorbs a good deal of the vapour. When potatoes are baked with meat, they should always be first parboiled, because they take a longer time to bake, and the moisture rising from the potatoes retards the process of baking, and makes the meat sodden. A baked meat pie, though not always very digestible, is far less objectionable than plain baked meat. In the case of a meat pie the surfaces of the meat are protected by a bad conductor of heat from that charring of the surface which generates empyreumatic vapours, and the fat and gravy, gradually rising in temperature, assist the cooking, and such cooking more nearly resembles stew-ing than baking. The process may go on for a long time after the removal of the meat from the oven, if surrounded with flannel, or some bad conductor of heat. The Cornish pasty is the best example of this kind of cooking. Meat, fish, game, parboiled vegetables, apples, or anything that fancy suggests, are surrounded with a thick flour and water crust and slowly baked. When removed from the oven, and packed in layers of flannel, the pastry will keep hot for hours. When baked dishes contain eggs, it should be remembered that the albumen becomes harder and more insoluble, according to the time occupied in cooking. About the same time is required for baking as roasting.

Boiling is one of the easiest methods of cooking, but a successful result depends on a number of conditions which, though they appear trifling, are nevertheless necessary. The fire must be watched so as properly to regulate the heat. The saucepan should be scrupulously clean and have a closely-fitting lid, and be large enough to hold sufficient water to well cover and surround the meat, and all scum should be removed as it comes to the surface; the addition of small quantities of cold water will assist the rising of the scum. For all cooking purposes clean rain water is to be preferred. Among cooks a great difference of opinion exists as to whether meat should be put into cold water and gradually brought to the boiling point, or should be put into boiling water. This, like many other unsettled questions in cookery, is best decided by careful scientific experiment and observation. If a piece of meat be put into water at a temperature of 60°, and gradually raised to 212°, the meat is undergoing a gradual loss of its soluble and nutritious properties, which are dissol ved in the water. From the surface to the interior the albumen is partially dissolved out of the meat, the fibres become hard and stringy, and the thinner the piece of meat the greater the loss of all those sapid constituents which make boiled meat savoury, juicy, and palatable. To put meat into cold water is clearly the best method for making soups and broth ; it is the French method of preparing the pot au feu ; but the meat at the end of the operation has lost much of that juicy sapid property which makes boiled meat so acceptable. The practice of soaking fresh meat in cold water before cooking is for the same reasons highly objectionable; if necessary, wipe it with a clean cloth. Eut in the case of salted, smoked, and dried meats soaking for several hours is indispensable, and the water should be occasionally changed. The other method of boiling meat has the authority of the late Baron Liebig, who recommends putting the meat into water when in a state of ebullition, and after five minutes the saucepan is to be drawn aside, and the contents kept at a temperature of 162° (50° below boiling). The effect of boiling water is to coagulate the albumen on the surface of the meat, which prevents, but not entirely, the juices passing into the water, and meat thus boiled has more flavour and has lost much less in weight. To obtain well-flavoured boiled meat the idea of soups or broth must be a secondary consideration. It is, however, impossible to cook a piece of meat in water without extracting some of its juices and nutriment, and the liquor should in both cases be made into a soup.

Stewing.—When meat is slowly cooked in a close vessel it is said to be stewed; this method is generally adopted in the preparation of made dishes. Different kinds of meat may be used, or only one kind according to taste. The better the meat the better the stew; but by carefully stewing the coarsest and roughest parts will become soft, tender, and digestible, which would not be possible by any other kind of cooking. The only objection to stewing is the length of time ; but a dinner may be prepared in this way the day before it is required. Odd pieces of meat and trimmings and bones can often be purchased cheaply, and may be turned into good food by stewing. Bones, although containing little meat, contain from 39 to 49 per cent, of gelatine. The large bones should be broken into small pieces, and allowed to simmer till every piece is white and dry. Gelatine is largely used both in the form of jellies and soups. It is said by some authorities to be comparatively valueless as a food, but more recent investigations seem to prove that gelatine, although not of the same food value as albumen, leaves the body as urea, and must therefore have taken part in nutrition. Lean meat, free from blood, is best for stewing, and, when cut into convenient pieces, it should be slightly browned in a little butter or dripping. Constant attention is necessary during this process, to prevent burning. The meat should be covered with soft water or, better, a little stock, and set aside to simmer for four or five hours, according to the nature of the material. When vegetables are used, these should also be slightly browned and added at intervals, so as not materially to lower the temperature. Stews may be thickened by the addition of pearl barley, sago, rice, potatoes, oatmeal, flour, &c, and flavoured with herbs and condiments according to taste. Although stewing is usually done in a stewpan or sauce-pan with a closely-fitting cover, a good stone jar, with a well-fitting lid, is preferable in the homes of working people. This is better than a metal saucepan, and can be more easily kept clean; it retains the heat longer, and can be placed in the oven or covered with hot ashes. The common red jar is not suitable; it does not stand the heat so well as a grey jar; and the red glaze inside often gives way in the presence of salt. The lid of a vessel used for stewing should be removed as little as possible. An occasional shake will prevent the meat sticking. At the end of the operation all the fat should be carefully removed.

Frying.—Lard, oil, butter, or dripping may be used for frying. There are two methods of frying,—the dry method, as in frying a pancake, and the wet method, as when the thing fried is immersed in a bath of hot fat. In the former case a frying pan is used, in the other a frying kettle or stewpan. It is usual for most things to have a wire frying basket; the things to be fried are placed in the basket and immersed at the proper temperature in the hot fat. The fat should gradually rise in temperature over a slow fire till it attains nearly 400° Fahr. Great care is required to fry properly. If the temperature is too low the things immersed in the fat are not fried, but soddened; if, on the other hand, the temperature is too high, they are charred. The temperature of the fat varies slightly with the nature of things to be fried. Fish, cutlets, croquets, rissoles, and fritters are well fried at a temperature of 380° Fahr. Potatoes, chops, and white bait are better fried at a temperature of 400° Fahr. Care must be taken not to lower the temperature too much by introducing too many things. The most successful frying is when the fat rises two or three degrees during the frying. Fried things should be of a golden brown colour, crisp, and free from fat. When fat or oil has been used for fish it must be kept for fish. It is customary first to use fat for croquets, rissoles, fritters, and other delicate things, and then to take it for fish. Every thing fried in fat should be placed on bibulous paper to absorb any fat on the surfaces. (J. c. B.)

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